I recently reviewed the more than five years' worth of columns and articles I have written for DM Review. All of my writing has been about information ­ accumulating it, accessing it, using it, dealing with it politically, spending on initiatives associated with it, mining it, visualizing it and reporting on it. Now I want to make a few observations about the motivation of people who deal with information initiatives.

There seem to be two major reasons people get into the "information" part of the organization –­ either because they want to do the right thing (by making information easier to deal with) or they want to climb the corporate ladder. Of these two reasons, hopefully the former is more prevalent than the ladder (i.e., latter ­ get it?).

Of course, some people think the information function of a company is the way to a C-level position (i.e., CIO, CTO, CMO or COO). There are certainly more C-level positions (or CXO positions where X equals any letter of the alphabet) than ever. Some information people do indeed achieve C-level titles, but the really successful people get into the information function because it is key to the company's survival and there is so much work to be done to get information right. Based on my experience as both an insider and an outsider, here are a few observations about the information function and the motivations of people who are in it.

You can't expect a quick fix (or immediate gratification); information problems take a long time to resolve.

Consider the case of implementing a common customer identifier, for example. This should be easy, right? Nope. It can take years to get the buy-in for such an effort, implement it in every customer-facing system and change business processes to keep it clean. There is virtually no such thing as "immediate job gratification" in an information position, especially in a large company where the complexities seem endless.

You have to like hard work (and you must remember you can never make everyone happy). It is just plain difficult to determine how many systems have the same data element (such as "balance"), how many different meanings that data element can have (current balance, collected balance, net balance, etc.), how many different ways it can be calculated and so forth. This is not easy. On top of that, it's thankless. Trust me, no one will say, "Gee, thanks for figuring out all the definitions of 'balance' and getting them straightened out across the company." Instead, they will say, "Gee, why wasn't this done before? How did it get so bad to begin with?" Or the dreaded, "Thanks for all your efforts, but that's not how I define it!"

Clean data is a terrific goal, but not achievable. (Cleaner data is, however, achievable.)

I'll never forget one of the early data warehouse implementations I was involved with, where I heard the following complaint from a user, "What you are doing is unconscionable! This is like putting an easy access tool on a garbage can! Our data is garbage, and you've got to fix it!" On the one hand, we were using that data before the data warehouse was implemented; it was just more difficult to access. On the other hand, it took an entire corporation to make the data dirty; and, believe me, one person is not going to be able to fix it. It's going to take the entire corporation to get it right. This leads me to the next observation; but before I get there, please be aware that cleaner data is not only possible, it is actually achievable. However, don't ever claim to have "clean data," or you'll get beat up by users and executives alike.

Fixing information problems is more about fixing human behavior than it is about fixing systems or databases.

Sure, you must fix systems, but it's not only about changing code. You must actually interact with real people. Processes that people perform create the data that exists today and runs your company. Therefore, changing data means changing processes; and changing processes means changing people's behavior. That means you will need to be skilled in relationships!

What are your motivations? What do you think you've gotten yourself into? With your information function position, you may have thought you'd climb right to the top of the corporate ladder. Chances are, however, that you are still waiting for recognition in the form of a C-level position. Instead, you will have to derive personal satisfaction from making a difference in how your organization uses information. Actually, when you think about it, that sounds pretty good!

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